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VIEWPOINT: An alternative to Dollar General?

Editor's Note: is seeking to foster civil and thoughtful dialogue among concerned citizens about a variety of topics. Please submit your comments on this Viewpoint column in the Comment section on the jump. If you would like to write a Viewpoint column for the blog, please email

By Shawn Cunningham

We've been hearing many valid arguments for and against a Dollar General locating in Chester. One of the arguments for a national discount chain is that there is a need for such a store in town; that a number of our residents can't or don't wish to drive to Springfield or New Hampshire to buy inexpensive goods that aren't offered for sale in Chester.

Small towns across the country have the same problem. In the west, and soon in Saranac Lake, NY, a novel concept is providing quality merchandise at reasonable prices without bringing in an out-of-state retailers. A community owned store – a mercantile – just might be the answer for Chester.

A mercantile is a dry goods store owned by local investors – you and your neighbors. By selling merchandise that local retailers don't carry, the mercantile rounds out the mix while not competing with existing stores.

A town full of owners ensures that the store will respond to the needs of Chester and guarantees a customer base that is vested in the store's success. Suggestions and complaints would not fade into thin air over a long distance telephone line or get lost in a full email in-box.

A Chester Mercantile would carry inexpensive but quality necessities alongside premium items, for sale to both locals and tourists. The profits from premium items would give the store the flexibility to keep the prices of necessities low. A mercantile could also offer old-fashioned services like layaway.

Not only would the store be owned by the community, its full-time manager and its employees – several of whom would likely be full-time – would also be local. And these jobs would offer a better quality of life, with higher pay, more benefits and better working conditions than big box, discount stores.


National chains consolidate functions for many stores in a corporate headquarters and purchase supplies and services on a national level. Local stores tend to secure services such as bookkeeping and legal advice locally.

They tend to buy more of their supplies nearby and their profits stay in town rather than going to corporate headquarters in another state. Several studies have indicated that for every $100 spent in a chain store, about $15 stays in the local economy. By contrast, if that same $100 is spent in a locally owned business, almost $45 remains to fuel the local economy.

It would also save our residents time and the gasoline that it takes to get to Springfield and New Hampshire.

Ideally, the Chester Mercantile would use an existing structure to preserve the pleasant, small-town character that makes Chester an attractive place to live and visit. Because the Mercantile it is not run from a one-size-fits-all business plan, it can be flexible in growing and meeting the needs of Chester.


Again, working with established stores to avoid direct duplication while offering Chester residents products that they can't find elsewhere, the Chester Mercantile could offer:

Shoes -- Socks -- Underwear -- Sewing notions -- Over-the-Counter Medicines -- First-Aid Supplies -- Cosmetics -- Hair Care Products -- Office Supplies -- Art Supplies -- School Supplies -- Party Supplies -- Toys -- Games -- Puzzles -- Seasonal Items such as Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations -- Towels and other Linens -- Candles -- Outerwear -- Sporting Goods – some Local Food Products -- Work Clothing -- Bath supplies -- Hats/Caps -- Cooking Tools -- Small Appliances -- Craft/Scrapbooking material …

A number of small communities have or are creating mercantiles.

Shawn Cunningham is a member of Smart Growth Chester, a citizens group that advocates for business and residential development and growth that reflects and enhances “the social, environmental, cultural, and economic values of the Town.” In coming weeks, he will examine other issues concerning growth and development in Chester.


The proposal to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General Store at the Zachary's Pizza House property has drawn a lot of comment on this blog. Most of those who have written have been against it. But to create a lively dialogue where all sides can understand one another, the views of others are needed as well. Out and about, it's encouraging to speak with those who are also for the store's construction. Their views are valid. Yet they -- and others -- need to be given a forum.  So, whether you are for it, against it or have a view that counters all, I encourage you to gather your thoughts and tackle the issue head-on, in writing.

I reserve the right to edit for spelling, grammar and length. (Prior to publication, you will be informed by email if your comment contains a factual error.)

I only ask that you act in this forum as you would in our grandmother's living room. Keep it civil: No name-calling, no fighting, no yelling, no kicking, no flinging of food. And keep your feet off the furniture. In return, I will post your comments as soon as possible.

Cynthia Prairie


The Chester Development Review Board will hold a hearing on subdividing the Zachary's Pizza House property to accommodate a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store to Monday Sept. 26. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.



I've thought about this for some time. While I understand the reasons why we should have Dollar General in Chester, the conclusion is that it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

This quaint little town is splashed with history and homes steeped in the "old ways" for very good reasons -- it's Chester's charm!

Bringing Dollar General will, I believe, take away from the small-town feel of our little corner on the map.

Now, one might argue that the two gas stations and banks steal a bit of that charm. But they do however bring necessities, where the Dollar General will only succeed in taking business away from already established businesses like Lisai's. We lost Gould's; Is Lisai's the next victim of "growth?"

I just don't see how opening a Dollar General will entice small-town tourism or enhance Chester's unique magic. I respectfully request we consider these thoughts and I hope I'm not the only the one who feels this way.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I like the mercantile idea. It's important to keep more dollars circulating in the immediate economy.

Prices of goods would need to be as inexpensive as the Dollar Store franchise though or people will just keep going to Springfield. Aesthetics are important and certainly should be in a town as quaint as Chester, but isn't there an approval process? What if the Dollar Store was required to look like a quaint country store? Maybe it would make a difference in how people feel about it, regardless of losing some of those local dollars. Anyone ever see the McDonald's in Freeport, ME?

You'd never know it was there, small golden arches, white clapboard get the point. I'd much rather have the mercantile but only if the goods are reasonably priced.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

At the last meeting, I pushed hard suggesting a more aesthetically pleasing building with architecture matching the local style. My reasoning was that if they failed and closed, an ugly cement block 'box' building would only be attractive to similar businesses in the future, making it difficult to bring in positive, community-minded companies that better served the local community. I've since learned a lot about the Dollar General corporation and their history of mistreating employees, leading to associated rise in local crime rate, etc. Of course, I now regret requesting that they change the facade of their building. I would not want their store in our town even if it was slate, stone and cute as a cottage. There is a very good chance that they will be presenting an aesthetically 'improved' version to appease us. Let's not be taken in by this.

*Scott Morgan is a member of Smart Growth Chester

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Can it be as simple as a cosmetic, fit-the-town facelift? You may be right Melody.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hi Melody. Thanks for taking time to read the blog and especially to comment. Each of these stores has its own business model based on the desires of the community. It's a matter of getting priorities in hand and creating the merchandise/pricing model to do what we want. Convenience, low price, jobs, etc all work into the mix. Obviously the mercantiles don't have the buying power of a Dollar General so they're not able to compete penny for penny, but prices can be very reasonable and there's the convenience of not having to go to Springfield or beyond. At nearly $4/gallon, gasoline has to enter into the equation.

*Shawn Cunningham is a member of Smart Growth Chester.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Thank you Shawn for bringing the Mercantile concept to our attention. It would be the ideal compromise -- locally owned, carrying sorely needed merchandise our current shop owners do not sell, convenient. And re-purposing an existing building for the Mercantile would help preserve the Chester so many of us love and seek to preserve. It would set Chester apart from other nearby communities that have allowed out-of-state businesses to come in.

The fact that 45% of each dollar spent remains in the community is a true plus when compared to the meager 15% an out-of-state business would leave behind.

Coming from a suburban community and raised with NYC roots, I can aver that many of my friends of similar mind would find a Mercantile utterly charming and above all -- unique. Housed in an older building (something that smacks of Vermont's heritage) stocking all the sundries a community requires as well as a showcase of gifts and crafts appealing to tourists -- it's a winning concept!

Melody, I am very familiar with the McDonald's in Freeport over by the Harraseeket Inn. There's one in New Hyde Park, NY on LI that keeps with the colonial building it is housed in and does not have any arches or typical colorful McDonald's signage.

Can anyone enlighten me as to what Chester Code is concerning signage and business districts? How much control can the Board exercise over a large, national corporation AND does the town have the means to fight them in court if they dispute local code?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hi Kathy,

The zoning regulations and the town plan are on the town website ( just click on Ordinances and Regulations. Chester has a very good set of zoning regs and a forward looking town plan and we believe these have the muscle to turn DG away.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Is the Zachary's property zoned C or RC?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

It's rc - "residential commercial"

Monday, 26 September 2011

Dollar General in Chester? This is just nuts. Some people think that a Dollar General store would bring jobs to Chester. How many people have you ever seen working at the Springfield store? It takes 15 minutes to drive to Springfield. What's the big deal? The mercantile idea has merit. However, I don't believe a Chester store would have enough customers to sustain it. Chester is perfect just the way it is now. We don't need a store that sells cheap junk. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A mercantile store for Chester is so much better than a national chain like Dollar Store. You know that the Dollar store is an in-and-out affair, with no care for the community. I love Chester and value its unique character. We certainly could use a handy store, and a mercantile venture sounds more grounded, if it meets the needs of the community.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Thanks for the blog! True, there is a need to keep such shopping local. I can also agree to the points of not wanting such a chain development -- or "cookie cutter" marketing, and the very real problems that could arise from a chain. In the case of a town-controlled mercantile, however,(with 30% more return), there could be a good compromise with less risk of compromising Chester's charm. Chester's Farmers Market, if resumed there could help meld this into more of a success. Let's keep hammering at this.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I love the idea of the mercantile. The aestetics and keeping money local is of great importance to me, and I would support such a business even if prices weren't as cheap as at the dollar store. But some people might not. How do small mercantiles compete with national chains, which do the volume allowing them to purchase at low prices and then sell at low prices?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

I also like the community store concept. It would be interesting to visit one or talk with the organizers of one to learn more about making such a concept a reality. Thank you Shawn.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

I had a long talk with the president of the board of the store. She had a lot of good advice and said we were welcomed to visit anytime, but that we should shoot for a time around the opening in November. Talking with some foundations that are interested in downtowns, this concept seems to be getting traction. All I can say is "Road Trip!" Stay tuned for a date and time.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

I would not really consider Manchester quaint. It's a destination for shoppers and bargain hunters. "Convenience" has been the only justification I have heard from endorsers of the Dollar General. Those who rate convenience so highly might find a larger city to their liking. I have never heard anyone list convenience as a factor for living here. If you don't believe our town has the population to support a large box store, why do you suppose a 9,000-square-foot Dollar General wants to come into town? Do we opt for community or for convenience? Fast food is convenient right?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Mercantile is a good idea, in theory. Is there a person, or active group of people who could get this started and going? If not, how would this person or group be found?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

There are several models for mercantiles. Saranac Lake formed a group that developed a prospectus to make a stock offering legal. Then they offered the stock to the community with the intent of raising $500,000 before they acted further. Since the recession hit, it took longer than expected to meet the threshold. But they did, then found a store manager, an assistant manager with a merchandising-buying background, existing space and wholesale products. Their philosophy is to offer good, inexpensive products. They expect to open in November. It's a cutting-edge idea that many foundations are interested in. Anyone can get involved -- and many people should. But there is no doubt that it will take a lot of work.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

One aspect to consider when comparing Manchester and Chester is the proportion of contemporary corporate retail content to small town, local business. Manchester has compromised much of its character due to allowance of a corporate, out-of-state retail infusion. To add another scrap of litter into a full garbage can (the existing strip mall east of Malfunction Junction, for example, composed of architectural elements that are more Disney stage set than any genuine architectural interpretation) is relatively insignificant, much we'd all agree, as in North Springfield. To toss a piece of litter on a clean floor is more noticeable. Chester is at a tipping point in this regard. To those who might suggest that a Dollar General or any other corporate retail store has done no harm to a community such as Springfield, I'd challenge with the question: How has the uncontrolled strip mall growth in North Springfield helped the area? Welfare families have increased there in the past decade. (What's happened to the claim that cheap goods stores help the economy?) The downtown is a classic case of post-industrial struggle, despite its having wonderful potential. Had smaller, locally owned businesses been aggressively attracted instead to the center of town, together with imaginative parking and pedestrian amenities (a well-known and successful design process) the whole region - including Chester - may have been weathering the current Depression (which I think we all know it really is) much more robustly. Diverse communities of small businesses and retailers have been shown, nationwide, to be a much healthier environment for small towns than singular corporate entities that have no vested interest in the communities. They encourage pedestrian traffic, they enjoy a far lower crime rate, the monies stay in the communities, the tax base is much more stable, the property values rise, not decline, employment tends to increase, not decrease, more residents and successful businesses are attracted to the community ... the list is very long and uplifting.

*Claudio Veliz is an architect and member of Smart Growth Chester.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

I find it ironic that ChesterUnited, which took $1,000 of Town funds and thousands more from the USDA to promote business in Chester is opposed to business in Chester. Selectively choosing business for the town is something I don't believe USDA would approve. While a Dollar General would not be my first choice for a business in Chester, it would be 15 jobs and many thousands of dollars in property taxes. The important thing to remember is, it doesn't matter what any of us think or want. The decision will be made by the DRB using the current regulations in force. Screaming at them will not change the regulations that they have to follow.

Thursday, 22 September 2011
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